BB's Centrepin Reel, made by Richard Walker c1948.
Richard Walker designed & made this reel in 1948 for Denys Watkins-Pitchford aka BB, who is widely regarded as the founding father of carp fishing.
This reel is one of the Holy Trinity of carp fishing’s historic items of tackle.
The others are Richard Walker’s own MK IV Carp Rod and the Walker-built MK IV Avon that Chris Yates used to catch his record carp.
It pre-dates the MK IV carp rod by four years, making it the first major item of tackle that Richard Walker designed and built specifically for carp fishing.
Richard Walker and BB became friends in 1947 and the reel is mentioned in BB’s 1949 book Be Quiet and Go A-Angling (Pseudonym Michael Traherne). In chapter IV, The Fisherman And His Weapons, BB tells us that he uses this reel exclusively for his carp fishing, and describes its eventful manufacture by Richard Walker in the factory of his family’s firm, Lloyds & Co of Letchworth.
While it was being turned, the swarf caught fire. Walker kept working while his colleagues extinguished the flames. As BB put it ‘A reel which had such a fiery birth is surely destined for great things.’ He goes on to describe the reel’s unique mechanisms and their functions. If you don’t have a copy of the original book, it was later published as Fisherman’s Folly by BB.
In essence, the reel is a five and three quarter inch diameter three quarter inch wide centrepin whose size facilitates rapid line retrieval. Richard Walker designed and made its ingenious reversible check mechanism and the lever operated auxiliary braking system. Every part of the reel displays Walker’s extraordinary attention to detail and creativity. Nothing was left to chance in its manufacture, as the accompanying pictures clearly demonstrate.
A rather lovely detail is the check wheel, which was part of a lawnmower’s transmission (Richard Walker’s firm Lloyds of Letchworth made mowers), but was craftily used for the reel’s ratchet mechanism.
Incidentally, there are two schools of thought regarding the reel’s baptism of fire. Either the paraffin-based cutting lubricant caught fire when the Duralumin swarf became hot, or the reel was made from lightweight magnesium alloy, which will catch fire if it overheats during turning. Magnesium alloys were very rare in the late 1940s. Even someone as resourceful as Richard Walker may have struggled to get hold of any, but in Walker’s own copy of ‘Be Quiet and Go A-Angling’ he crossed out the word Duralumin and replaced it with Magnesium. The reel is certainly remarkably light for its size.
The reel is extremely good looking, unaltered and in superb working order. It displays all of the hallmarks of Richard Walker’s skill and originality. It is beautifully made and everything works as it should, even after seventy two years. To the experienced eye, it is clearly a tailor-made, hand finished one-off, and not something knocked out by a jobbing turner to a set of drawings. To those of us fortunate enough to have handled and examined items of Walker-made tackle, this reel exudes an especially strong sense of his genius and personality.
BB sold the reel in 1990, shortly before he died. It was purchased (along with the MK IV carp rod Walker had made for him) by well known angler and author Len Arbery. That year, Len visited me and very kindly brought the rod and reel along. As a lifelong devotee of BB and Richard Walker, I was almost speechless with excitement. My feelings about the reel are just as strong today. It is incredibly impressive and steeped in history. I have no hesitation in saying that it is a manifestation of the combined personalities of BB and Richard Walker.
In 1990, Len (a master tool maker by trade) took the reel and rod to Redmire Pool, where he used them to catch a fine common carp (he sold the rod shortly after his Redmire visit). He has since used the reel a handful of times.
Len has had immense pleasure from being the reel’s custodian for thirty years, but with reluctance, he has decided that now is the time to part with it. We are honoured that he has asked us to find this wonderful historic reel a new and appreciative owner.
The reel will be supplied with provenance from Len Arbery.